“Are you excited about going back to America?”
I’ve heard this question a lot over the past few months. Usually my response is something like, “Um, yeah? I guess so?”
Even this super definitive answer is somewhat of a lie. But a soft lie, used to keep conversation from grinding to an awkward halt when you say, “No.”
Excited is not the right word. If I were to answer honestly, I would have to say,
“It feels weird.”
“I don’t really know how I feel.”
“I feel anxious. And relieved. And unsettled. And expectant. And a little lost.”
The truth is, when we dropped our friends at the airport where they would fly back to China, to sleep tonight in their own beds in their own apartment in their familiar city, I felt a pang of jealousy.
I just want to go back to our home. Except that it’s not ours anymore.
I want to go back to our normal life. Except we have to do the hard work of creating a new normal.
I want to be with all those people who get us and understand our lives. Except I also want to be with family and friends.
I want everything to stay the same, even if it wasn’t healthy or sustainable.
I want everything to stay the same, and of course it never does.
It is no reflection on our family or our friends in America. It is just that…we live in China. We visit America. But right now approximately everything we own is packed up in boxes, and we can’t go back to where we lived for four long years, and we won’t see our China friends for at least a year.
It’s just that we have repacked these bags over and over, and it will be at least a couple more months before we can really unpack and settle in. Somewhere that is yet to be determined.
It’s just that sometimes I lie awake at night thinking, “We don’t even have spoons. Or a broom. How are we going to live in yet-to-be-determined-housing without spoons or a broom?? It seems wasteful to buy a broom just for a year. Aren’t brooms kind of expensive? I don’t know how much brooms are. I don’t know how much anything is. How do we possibly budget for a year in America if we don’t even know how much a broom will cost?
“Where will we live and what will we do and what if we just spend this year wandering confusedly around grocery store aisle ranting to strangers about the meaninglessness of ten different varieties of canned tomatoes. Chopped, diced, stewed, seasoned, name brand, store brand – why are you ruining our lives?
“What if our friends don’t understand us and we don’t understand them? What if our kids talk about kuai and three wheeled vehicles and places in Thailand and everyone thinks they are too weird to bother with? What if they forget all their Chinese? What if they prefer America? What if we keep getting sick and nothing changes? What if we can’t go back to China, or back to our city, or back to our school?...”
It’s just that the things I packed and carefully portioned into four 23 kg suitcases plus carry-ons already confuse me. Why does Juliana have so many clothes and Nadia so few? Why did it seem so important to bring that book and not the other one? What happened to that game I was sure we packed? Why did we bring so much and it’s still not enough?
We painstakingly discussed which stuffed animals the girls would bring. Adalyn was definite: kitty, dolly, and worry-eater. She is not like Juliana, who sleeps with a pack of animals and panics if one falls under the bed. Adalyn’s animals stay in the suitcase or fall under the bed - she barely even cares they are there.
Until the night she lay in bed wailing, “I want my hedgehog! Where is hedgehog? I wanted to bring my hedgehog and you wouldn’t let me! I don’t want kitty!”
She was just tired. She was just reacting to Juliana’s temporarily missing hedgehog. She was just lashing out. She was just responding to the stress of sleeping in different beds in different cities and countries and not even knowing where your things are or if you will actually see them again and what if you made the wrong choice and brought the wrong things? What if you didn’t know what you really wanted?
The next morning she was fine. She hasn’t mentioned hedgehog since. But the feeling will continue to resurface.
We will keep traveling – another airplane, another country, another bed before eventually we settle and try to make ourselves fit into life somewhere for a year, less than a year. Knowing this is temporary, knowing that this is not the place we really live.
Maybe I will feel excited.
But for now, if you ask me, I will probably just look confused.
I’ll probably say, “Um, yeah? I guess so?”